Each year has 365 days, and, of those 365 days, we work on average 260 of them. That is over 70% of our days spent going to a workplace, be it physical or virtual, and being part of something that hasn’t traditionally been considered “our personal life”. But, as many of us are now experiencing, the workplace is becoming our personal lives. As we take our workplaces home more and more, the line between workplace and personal life is becoming increasingly blurred. As we move into a new era, we are now more than ever constantly connected to our work, so there is not a question of doubt that the lines of what our workplaces are is becoming more than the physical office we turn up to.
Work, in its true form, is what makes up most of our days and, therefore, it is no surprise that work serves a multiple array of purposes for us as individuals. Some are tangible – work is what feeds our families, buys presents at Christmas time and gives us the most basic reason for why any of us work – to make money. But, above and beyond this, a workplace can be more than a pay packet. It can be what makes us get out of bed in the morning without a lump in our throats, it can define whether we feel like we belong or not, and it can provide us with gratification that we tend to not be able to find anywhere else. The workplace provides a part of our lives where we find meaning, purpose, and a sense of safety.
But, many workplaces in Australia and globally are not meeting the mark in providing a safe place to work. Therefore, throughout the process you’re about to begin, the key question we will want to be figuring out, as you move through each stage and trepidation, is whether your employees feel three things. Do they feel safe? Do they feel seen? And, finally, do they have a sense that they truly belong?
Beyond it being part of our legal obligation as a workplace, which will be covered in a later article, there are a simple core reason for why a workplace should and needs to care about mental health.
Mental health isn’t necessarily what all of us think it is. When we think of mental health, we tend to think of only mental illness. But that isn’t the case. Mental health isn’t only those who have been given a mental illness diagnosis. It can be the one who is going through a divorce, the others who have gone through one and haven’t quite managed to move on, the individuals who are simply a little more anxious than the rest and need someone to understand that to bring out the best of them at work; it is the dad with the disruptive teenager or the mum with a crying baby; it is the early 20’s guy who is starting his first job or the 60 year-old who is terrified of retiring. In this regard, mental health is life.
It is what happens to us through a string of experiences and events throughout the time in which we are alive. It is formulated by series of moments that curate how we think, feel, act and behave, and given that most of them are spent are work, guess where a lot of our mental health comes from? The workplace. Mental health is the reason we respond in certain ways; the reason we cry in certain scenarios; the reason we feel pain for others; the reason that we might not understand; the reason we might succeed; the reason we might fail. Each moment forms a part of who you are, and these moments bring together the experience that we call life, where we spend a lot of time at work. We can no longer deny the role that the workplace has a role in the state of our mental health and it is time to stop pretending that the role doesn’t exist.
You’ll hear me say it time and time again, there are many statistics to show us why mental health matters. We know that 45% of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, and at any point in time, 20% of Australians will have experienced it in the last 12 months. We know that 8 Australians die per day by suicide, and that the rate of suicide among males is more than three time greater than that for females. We know that the workplace can be a trigger, a contributor and a cause for that of poor mental health. We know that 9 out of 10 Australian employees believe that having a mentally healthy workplace is important, but astonishingly, only 5 out of 10 employees believe that their own workplace is a mentally safe place to work.
So, the first reason is an ethical reason; a moral obligation to give a damn about your employees. It is a problem in our society, and therefore, it is a problem for our workplaces. But the reasons don’t stop there.